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Beethovenfest

After gentle revolutions, the Beethovenfest comes to an emphatic close

From the French Revolution to the Arab Spring: the festival theme of "Revolutions" contributed to a successful year - and next year's slogan will be a bit gentler.

In contrast to an understated beginning four weeks before, the Beethovenfest Bonn ended on a high-decibel note with Felix Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 2, this symphonic cantata titled "Lobgesang"(Song of Praise) being an almost stridently demonstrative affirmation of Judeo-Christian faith. Conductor John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir, the London Symphony Orchestra and three superb vocal soloists (sopranos Ludy Crowe and Jurgita Adamonyté and tenor Patrick Grahl) achieved a perfect blend of musical textures from quiet to fortissimo in the Beethoven Hall and were rewarded by long standing ovations.

What the festival downbeat on September 9 and the finale on October 9 had in common was the subtle treatment of the festival's motto, "Revolutions."

The concert brochure offered some clues as to the revolutionary aspects of Mendelssohn's "Song of Praise." One reads there that Mendelssohn wrote the composition at a time of patriotic sentiments in the German lands. For it, he chose texts from the Bible that underscored the cultural identity of the not yet nation-state and transcended religious boundaries. Around the year 1840, that was a revolutionary concept.  

The softer revolutions last longer

How revolutions in history found their expression in music - and how music history itself was marked by its own revolutionary developments - were subjects that one could learn about and experience during the four festival weeks.

Sir Elliot Gardiner at the finale of the Beethovenfest 2016 (Beethovenfest/Barbara Frommann)

The London Symphony has appeared at Bonn's Beethovenfest a number of times, in 2016 with the Monteverdi Choir and vocal soloists

With this connection of music and cultural history, festival director Nike Wagner "has created something unique," said a local official at the post-concert reception.

Did this emphasis on concepts seem a bit too heavy to audiences? Not so, said Wagner, citing the standing ovations at several events and noting that the festival team - and the audiences - thoroughly enjoyed the theme.

Over 20 of the total 59 concerts were sold out, although the number of tickets sold - 70 percent of the total available - was below levels achieved in recent years.

The 2017 Beethovenfest Bonn will take place from September 8 to October 1, roughly three festival weeks rather than four. A smaller, more exclusive Beethovenfest awaits visitors in coming years, along with carefully thought-out concepts, world-class performances and a series of events that seems anything but random. The motto of the coming season, "The Distant Beloved," not only has a connection to Beethoven's biography but also to the highly associative ideas of "distance" and "love."  

The city is already talking about the big Beethoven anniversary year, 2020, marking the composer's 250th birthday. In the interim, the festival will have to get by without its central venue: the Beethoven Hall will be closed for renovation for three seasons.

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